Diet and psoriatic arthritis: What's worth trying?

Food can impact your weight and your joints. Here's what to consider when you have psoriatic arthritis.

Some say that food is medicine. But could the right diet help soothe psoriatic arthritis pain and stiffness? Perhaps. No specific diet treats psoriatic arthritis. But that doesn't mean that food can't influence your joint health.

Allergies or food sensitivities can cause symptoms that may worsen pain, fatigue and skin irritation. And certain foods can worsen swelling (inflammation) and trigger the body's immune response — which could affect your psoriatic arthritis symptoms.

Joint-friendly diets

Thinking about changing up your menu? Here are some popular diets and how they might help your psoriatic arthritis symptoms.

  • Mediterranean diet. This popular diet includes plenty of healthy foods: fish, whole grains, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts. Following a diet rich in plant and fish oils might improve joint pain and stiffness.

    This diet also boosts heart health and reduces inflammation. Plus, it's good for weight loss, which also eases joint strain.

  • Gluten-free diets. These diets, which avoid a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, are pretty popular right now — though that doesn't mean that they're right for everyone. But, gluten sensitivity might be more common in people with psoriasis. This sensitivity could aggravate your immune system and your joints.

    Talk to your doctor about eliminating gluten to see if your psoriatic arthritis symptoms improve. But if you don't have a gluten allergy or sensitivity, this diet is restrictive and hard to follow, and likely won't benefit you.

  • Paleo diet. Certain elements of this diet might be helpful for psoriatic arthritis. The pros of the "caveman" diet are avoiding processed foods, sugar and salt. It also promotes fresh, whole foods such as fruits and vegetables.

    But a paleo diet includes red meat, which can worsen inflammation. And, it avoids heart-healthy, low-calorie whole-grain foods, as well as beans and other legumes and bone-building dairy products. The paleo diet focuses on grass-fed meat and wild game, which can be pricey and sometimes difficult to find. This diet might be too expensive or difficult for some people to follow given the restrictions.

Focus on inflammation-fighting foods

The Arthritis Foundation suggests applying these basic nutrition elements to fight inflammation and promote healthy joints, no matter what diet you eat:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Enjoy a rainbow of colors for a variety of nutrients and flavors, and eat at least 9 servings per day.
  • Consider eliminating nightshades such as peppers and tomatoes. Though they're nutrient-rich, these foods can trigger inflammation and might worsen arthritis pain in some people. Talk to your doctor about cutting them from your diet to see if it improves your symptoms.
  • Choose vitamin K-rich veggies, such as spinach, cabbage and broccoli. But if you're taking the blood thinner warfarin, talk with your doctor before you start adding more vitamin K-rich foods to your diet.
  • Enjoy more vitamin C-rich produce such as citrus fruits. Eat red and purple fruits such as berries and cherries.
  • Eat whole grains such as whole-wheat bread and brown rice. These fiber-rich foods help you feel full and lose weight. And eating more fiber might help reduce inflammation.
  • Eat more fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon and tuna. Consider a fish oil supplement if you don't care for the taste of fish.
  • Power up with plant-based proteins such as beans, soy and nuts.
  • Opt for plant-based oils, such as olive oil, in place of butter.

And don't forget to include low-fat dairy products such as skim milk, yogurt and cheese for strong and healthy bones.

If you want to try modifying your diet, choose one food at a time to eliminate. This will help you to better understand which one affects your psoriatic arthritis. For example, don't eliminate gluten and nightshades at the same time. Also, make sure that your diet isn't too restrictive.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all diet to totally manage psoriatic arthritis pain and stiffness. But, eating a variety of healthy foods can go a long way toward improving your health — and your joint symptoms.

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Feb. 25, 2022 See more In-depth